Saturday, October 18, 2014

Louisiana Lit: Dave Robicheaux' Music

Songs marked important periods in Dave Robicheaux' life.

Who is Dave Robicheaux? 

He's the protagonist in 20 books written by James Lee Burke, a New Iberia, Louisiana, writer.

Dave is a homicide detective in New Iberia, Louisiana. Cajun. Recovering alcoholic. Vietnam war veteran. A man who marries. A father.

You can read more about Dave here. And what he thinks about north Louisianans here. And alcohol here. And some music here. On human exploitation here. On Angola here. On Louisiana's shadow self here. And on police violence and our complicity in same here. (My selections might give the impression that Dave Robicheaux (channeling James Lee  Burke) is a real downer about South Louisiana. Of course, Dave Robicheaux is a homicide detective, so that has an effect on the topics he talks about, but even so, Dave's love of Louisiana, the people, and culture do shine through.)

Dave's music

I've now read all 20 of the Dave Robicheaux books, and I'll roll out some more posts on same. But here's my round-up of Dave's music.

Dave talked about four songs in the last book I read (not the last Dave Robicheaux book),  Creole Belle.

The first is called Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar, by Will Bradley:

Then there's Just A Dream, by Jimmy Clanton:

And Faded Love, by Bob Wills:

Bob Wills' San Antonio Rose played a role in the book:

James Lee Burke, by way of Dave Robicheaux, has introduced me to music I wouldn't have otherwise known.

Other songs from prior posts:

From Louisiana Lit: Dave Robicheaux and Some Fine Music (March 2014):

Dave on some fine music of his youth

From Jolie Blon's Bounce (2002):
"The lyrics and the bell-like reverberation of Guitar Slim's rolling chords haunted me. Without ever using words to describe either the locale or the era in which he had lived, his song re-created the Louisiana I had been raised in: the endless fields of sugarcane thrashing in the wind under a darkening sky, yellow dirt roads and the Hadacol and Jax beer signs nailed on the sides of general stores, horse-drawn buggies that people tethered in stands of gum trees during Sunday Mass, clapboard juke joints where Gatemouth Brown and Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price played, and the brothel districts that flourished from sunset to dawn and somehow became invisible in the morning light."

Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Source: wikipedia

Here's the song Gatemouth Boogie, which Mr. Brown says he made up on the spot one night during a performance, when he stood in for an ailing T-Bone Walker:

Here's a song by Lloyd Price - Stagger Lee:

From Louisiana: Angola and... (April 2014)

Angola prisoners. Credit: Angola Museum

Angola is the Louisiana State Prison.

Like a few other American prisons - such as Alcatraz, Folsom, Attica, Rikers - its infamy also elicits a perverse ... awe? reverence? pride? I don't know, but whatever it is, it says something uncomfortable about humans. 

Dave Robicheaux on Angola

(See references to fictional homicide detective, Dave Robicheaux here, here, here, here, and here.)

From Jolie's Bounce (2002): 
It is difficult to describe in a convincing way the kind of place Angola was in the Louisiana of my youth, primarily because no society wishes to believe itself capable of the kinds of abuse that occur when we allow our worst members, usually psychopaths themselves, to have sway over the powerless.

For the inmates on the Red Hat gang, which was assigned to the levee along the river, it was double time and hit-it-and-git-it from sunrise to sunset, or what the guards called "cain't-see to cain't-see." The guards on the Red Hat gang arbitrarily shot and killed and buried troublesome convicts without missing a beat in the work schedule. The bones of those inmates still rest, unmarked, under the buttercups and the long green roll of the Mississippi levee.

The sweatboxes were iron cauldrons of human pain set in concrete on Camp A, where Leadbelly, Robert Pete Williams, Hogman Matthew Maxey, and Guitar Welch did their time. Convicts who passed out on work details were stretched on anthills. Trusty guards, mounted on horseback and armed with chopped-down double-barreled shotguns, had to serve the time of any inmate they let escape. There was a high attrition rate among convicts who tried to run.
(links added)

'course, when I thnk of Angola, I think of the old state prison in New Mexico, site of the massacre at the 1980 New Mexico State Penitentiary Revolt.

And of the growing unsettledness about solitary confinement of our prisoners.

Which brings me to this March 2014 article in The Guardian:  Why Do We Let 80,00 Americans Suffer a 'Slow-Motion Torture of Burying Alive'? The article compares the experience of Sarah Shroud, who spent 13 months in solitary confinement in Iran, with that of American prisoners who face similar conditions for the indefinite future.

You can read more about solitary confinement here


Dave Robicheaux's Hometown Literary Festival said...

Thanks for all the references to music. Your quotations from some of the books remind us of why we love Dave Robicheaux! Since you're living "in the neighborhood" in 2015 we hope you can join us down the road in April 2016 for the 1st Annual Dave Robicheaux's Literary Festival.

Mzuri said...

Noooooooooo! I am so sad I will miss this fantastic-sounding event! And if Mr. Burke is going to be in attendance himself, I'll really be spitting nails because by April 2016, I'll be off to a new temporary home.